Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Silent Days, Silent Dreams

Silent Days, Silent Dreams

Allen Say
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Scholastic, 2017   ISBN: 978-0545927611

Jimmy was born on a farm in Idaho in 1899. He was completely deaf, and like so many other deaf children at that time, this meant that no one really knew how to communicate with him.  Jimmy was sent to a regular school, which was a disaster. Not being able to hear meant that he did not understand what the children around him were doing. Indeed, they frightened him.

One day, after he was punished, Jimmy sought out a place to hide, and he went into the loft of an unused icehouse. He brought scraps of used paper to his hideaway and used burnt matchsticks to draw pictures on the paper. Since he could not really help with the farm chores, Jimmy was left to his own devices and he drew. Often he drew the things that he wished that he had in his life. He drew a bed, a stove, a chair, and a little house. Jimmy wanted a home of his own.

When he was ten, Jimmy and his sister Nellie (who was also deaf) were sent to the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind. Jimmy was not able to learn what the other students were studying, but he did spend a lot of time in the school library. He loved being around books, and was fascinated by the written word, even though he could not read.

Of course Jimmy drew pictures, but the teachers at the school did not appreciate the pictures and they took them away from him. Jimmy ran away from the school, and when he was caught and brought back he was punished. His punishment was to write out numerals and the letters of the alphabet over and over again. What the staff at the school did not understand was that writing the alphabet was like drawing for Jimmy, so he happily did the punishments he was given.

The principal at the school finally decided, when Jimmy was fifteen, that he was “ineducable” and he was sent home. He told Jimmy’s parents not to give him drawing materials. Drawing was a waste of time and Jimmy should be writing instead.

In the end Jimmy found a way to keep drawing. He swiped scrap paper and he made ‘ink’ by mixing soot with his own spit. Jimmy found a way to express himself even though people were trying to silence the only voice he really had.

Told from the point of view of James Castle’s nephew, Bob Beach, this extraordinary biography tells the story of an artist who was deaf, mute, and autistic. James lived a very isolated life, and it was only when he was fifties that someone, his nephew, saw how extraordinary James’ pieces of art were.

To create this powerful and inspiring book, Allen Say did a lot of research so that he could better understand James. He used the same kinds of drawing materials that James used. Allen Say’s goal was to create art for the book that truly captured the essence of James’ ‘voice,’ and what a voice it is.